The U.N. rights chief said on Thursday that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes in the latest, 11-day war with the militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip.
The remarks by Michelle Bachelet came as the U.N.’s top human rights body opened a one-day special session to discuss the plight faced by Palestinians in the fighting this month. She said that Hamas’ indiscriminate rocketing during the conflict was also a clear violation of the rules of war.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights spoke to the Human Rights Council, chronicling the “most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014” that left devastation and death in the Gaza Strip before a cease-fire last week.
“Air strikes in such densely populated areas resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries, as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure,” she said. “Such strikes raise serious concerns of Israel’s compliance with distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law.”
“Such attacks may constitute war crimes,” she added, if deemed to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians.
In an apparent allusion to tactics of Hamas, she said it was a violation of international humanitarian law to locate military assess in densely populated civilian areas, or to launch attacks from them.
Hamas “rockets are indiscriminate and fail to distinguish between military and civilian objects, and their use, thereby, constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” she added. “However, the actions of one party do not absolve the other from its obligations under international law.”
“Unless the root causes of the violence are addressed, it will certainly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences with further pain and suffering for civilians on all sides, “ she also said.
The day-long debate involved personal accounts from Palestinians — such as that of a young woman journalist from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, an early flashpoint that led to the violence — as well as statements from the council’s 47 member states and also observer states.
The Organization of Islamic Conference has presented a resolution that, if passed by the council, would mark an unprecedented level of scrutiny authorized by the council by setting up a permanent commission to report on human rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
A vote on the draft resolution was likely at the end of the session, which is largely virtual.
Israel — backed at times by the United States — accuses the council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators. Israel’s ambassador, Meirav Eilon Shahar, has called on member states to oppose Thursday’s meeting.